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When George Harrison responded to Ray Davies' review of 'Revolver'

@TomTaylorFO

The Beatles changed when they released Revolver—music changed too. Stereo sound was in its infancy and the ‘Fab Four’ were about to change the way we hear music forever, by combining artistry with the cutting edge of production. A fair wallop of LSD entered the mind-bending mix too. It was also the moment that George Martin rightfully earned his stripes as the band’s fifth member, shepherding the future into their keen sound.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would soon see the band push on in the same vein, but it was Revolver that cleared that path for them, and, in many ways, it is a more uncompromising record in the true sense of the word because of this. The boundary-pushing on the album is driven by curiosity, not by design: it’s more a question of what more can we do, as opposed to the notable musing of what more should we do on later records. As McCartney would excitably remark prior to the release: “There are sounds [on Revolver] that nobody else has done yet – I mean nobody… ever.” 

The studio simply became a fifth member on Revolver, it wasn’t yet a gatekeeper for the band. That is not necessarily to say that Revolver is The Beatles best album; that’s a debate for another day, but it is their most important record because, with it, their evolution was catalysed and as such so was the entire pop culture movement. An album no longer had to be a succinctly packaged and manageable beast; it could be an unfurling creative splurge.

This is something that Dougie Payne from Travis, agreed with when we recently caught up with him and he celebrated Revolver as one of his nine favourite records of all time. Aside from the quality of the album, he also noted how the sonic shift represents the most important chapter in the entire Beatles story. “To my mind, The Beatles are like two different bands,” he explained. “When I was little, my sister was a Beatles obsessive, and her room was next to mine so their records would filter through the wall — so, they just sort of seeped in.”

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However, when Revolver was released in 1966, that all changed. “[My sister] was only into the mop-top Beatles albums so that to me was The Beatles. Years later when I discovered the weird, hairy, druggy Beatles I absolutely fell in love with them all over again. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ 55 years on still sounds like it was recorded tomorrow,” he concluded of its Promethean sound and the influential wallop that it landed.

Upon release not everyone would find the jaunt into the future quite as timeless; the most notable being Ray Davies of The Kinks. Tasked with reviewing the record for Disc and Music Echo Magazine, Davies says that ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is a song that “sounds like they’re out to please music teachers in primary schools”. Detailing further, Davies adds that “it’s very commercial” in the closest thing to a compliment.

Thereafter, Davies only gets even more merciless. He describes ‘Yellow Submarine’ as “a load of rubbish,” and levelled that ‘Taxman’ was “a bit limited.” Perhaps most telling, however, was his take on the ground-breaking ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ which he reviewed as follows: “Listen to all those crazy sounds! It’ll be popular in discotheques. I can imagine they had George Martin tied to a totem pole when they did this.”

At a time when Ray Davies was also ushering music in a brand-new direction and helping to herald elements of heavy metal and post-punk to come, it is perhaps simply the case that he found himself on a separate page from the band he once admired. As he says himself of ‘I’m Only Sleeping’: “It’s a most beautiful song, much prettier than ‘Eleanor Rigby’. A jolly old thing, really, and definitely the best track on the album.”

It was this separate side of the same coin notion that the ever diplomatic and understanding George Harrison focused on when he responded in the next edition of the magazine, the day after Revolver was released. “He’s entitled to his opinion,” Harrison began. “But I think if Ray Davies met us, he might change his tune. I’m sure he’s more like us, and thinks more alike, than he thinks. I think Ray Davies and The Beatles would have plenty in common.” Davies would eventually meet The Beatles with them, play a few shows, and indeed, change his tune.

Harrison’s future friend and collaborator, Eric Clapton, was also quick to defend the record. He said: “It’s great, everything on it is fantastic!” He then spoke of his favourite guitarists, adding: “Peter Green is good. He’s going in the right direction and steering straight ahead with his ideas. If I was sure that everything George Harrison plays was his own idea, then I’d say he was good, but I got this feeling it’s Paul McCartney telling him what to do.”

In subsequent years, Davies has celebrated The Beatles once more, as he would later opine: “I think they were very well organized about the way they worked,” Davies says. “And they had a team. I didn’t really have a team. They knew exactly what their music was being cast for. I didn’t. I knew I had a good riff guitar player [in brother Dave Davies]…but I had no one to collaborate with… There is something special about Beatles, though.”